Burning building

OSHA Announces Rulemaking on Combustible Dust Hazards

On April 29, 2009 OSHA announced that they would be initiating a comprehensive rulemaking on combustible dust. The hazardous nature of combustible dust and the horrible consequences of a dust explosion have prompted OSHA to begin the rulemaking process. With this rulemaking OSHA hopes to ensure workers receive the protection they need and employers receive the tools they need to keep their workers and workplaces safe from the hazards of combustible dust.

Combustible dust explosions have killed over 130 workers since 1980 and injured more than 780. In February 2008, 14 people were killed in Georgia at an Imperial Sugar Co. plant when sugar dust ignited causing a series of explosions. More injuries occurred just last month in an Illinois pet food plant dust explosion. The proposed rulemaking couldn’t come soon enough and hopefully will move through the rulemaking process quickly.

Combustible dusts are just what they sound like, very fine particles that can ignite when suspended in the air and cause an explosion. We all know that a fire requires three things: fuel, oxygen and heat. Dust explosions require two more components: dispersion of dust particles and confinement of the dust cloud within a building, room, vessel, etc. If all these elements are present (and many employers don’t know if they are) a combustible dust explosion will occur. Secondary explosions may occur due to the initial explosion releasing more dust into the air. In turn this dust can ignite and the secondary explosions can be even more disastrous than the initial explosion.

Industries at Risk of Combustible Dust Explosions

  • Wood, paper or pulp processing
  • Plastics production
  • Rubber and tire manufacturing and reclamation
  • Flour and feed mills
  • Metal processing or storage (aluminum, bronze, chromium, iron, magnesium, and zinc)
  • Chemical production
  • Starch and candy production
  • Spice, sugar and cocoa operations
  • Coal handling and processing
  • Pharmaceutical plants
  • Grain elevators, bins, and silos
  • Tobacco handling operations
  • Recycling operations
  • Fertilizer production and processing
  • Agriculture
  • Furniture
  • Textiles
  • Dyes

Prevention Measures You Can Take

The most important thing you can do to avoid a combustible dust explosion at your workplace is to identify any and all factors that may contribute to an explosion through a hazard assessment. The second best thing you could do would be to implement a hazardous dust inspection, testing, housekeeping and control program. You need to minimize dust accumulation throughout your facility, control ignition sources and instruct employees in the hazards of combustible dust as well as the importance of the prevention program.

Some other things you could do:

    • Provide access to all hidden areas to permit inspection
    • Vacuum dust versus sweeping or blowing it away
    • Only use vacuum cleaners that are approved for dust collection and are spark and explosion proof
    • Remove dust regularly from elevated surfaces such as ductwork, high shelves, ceiling beams, etc.
    • Be sure all dust collection equipment is working properly at all times
    • Any electrical installations in hazardous dust areas should meet the National Electrical Code for hazardous locations (Class II)
    • Have an emergency action plan in place and be sure all employees are aware of the plan
    • Maintain emergency exit routes
    • Post “No Smoking” signs in combustible dust areas
    • Provide MSDSs for the chemicals which could become a combustible dust and make them available to all employees
    • Clean working surfaces regularly to avoid dust accumulation


This information is provided as a service to you by Compliance Consultants, Inc.

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